Hebron - where settlers rule by Chris Doyle
17 November 2016
The day that Donald J Trump ripped up the rule book and crushed the US political establishment following one of the most racist, bigoted campaigns in electoral history was one that was received with joy by extremists, dictators and crackpots across the world. From the Assad regime, to Putin to Marine Le Pen, this was their moment. Hate crimes and racism have already been on the rise. The rule of law and human rights is facing its greatest challenge arguably since the Second World War.
That day, I was accompanying the leader of the Scottish National Party in Westminster, Angus Robertson MP and two of his Parliamentary colleagues, Kirsten Oswald MP and Dr Paul Monaghan MP as part of a two-day visit to the West Bank following their visit to Israel. We visited the centre of Hebron, the part (H2) totally under Israeli army control. At least in theory.
The centre of Hebron is a mini-settler state. Nominally the army rules, yet the reality is that Israeli soldiers obey the settlers. Some 850 settlers live in the centre of Hebron holding the historic centre of this ancient city, sacred to all three monotheistic faiths, to ransom. Shops are welded shut. Certain streets are sterilised, meaning that whilst we could walk down them as could settlers, and Palestinians could not. They are the ‘germs’. Shuhada Street, the main road in Hebron, has been closed off to Palestinians since 1994.
We passed all of this. We passed graffiti calling for death to all Arabs. We passed a sign calling for Israelis to support the new settler outpost just outside Hebron built on private Palestinian land. We saw one house with its door open. The Palestinian home had been broken into, so that the Israeli army could re-establish a post on its roof. The settlers passed by and many cursed us especially as we were being guided by a member of Breaking the Silence, the group of former Israeli soldiers who had dared to speak out about their service in the occupied territories.
Half way down the street, we were accosted by a crowd of young male settler kids. They shouted and screamed. One pushed Kirsten but was told off by the other kids: “We are not allowed to do that.” (Cleary they had been given rules as to what they could or could not do) They repeatedly called the former soldier a “traitor” and a “liar”. They formed a chain, dancing around him and prevented him from moving. His reaction was calm. Every time he tried to speak they shouted louder.
The first couple of solders looked sheepishly on. They could do nothing. Why? Their mission is to protect the settlers. It is not to keep law and order, let alone protect us or Palestinians. One confessed to absolutely hating Hebron and just wanted to leave.
A car drives up. An adult settler reminds the kids not to overdo it or it might look bad on them. We continue. The former soldier calls up the Israeli police. In theory they should come to help but he is not optimistic. On reaching the checkpoint into the other part of the city we are joined by another group of soldiers as another car drives up. A settler gets out. One of the MPs is shocked that he carries a gun (Donald Trump would approve.) I pointed out that they nearly all do. It is permitted. The settler gives another group of soldiers some cake to thank them.
Eventually the children disperse. They thought they had done their job but it merely exposed how this bunch of extremist, ultra-nationalists had a grip on this part of the city and how the Israeli army, and indeed government, are running scared of them.
This is not a one off experience. On other previous delegations, stones, bricks and eggs have been thrown at the delegation. In Ha’aretz, the distinguished journalist Amira Hass recounts how international volunteers were prevented from walking down Shuhada street because a settler woman, Anat Cohen, decided it was forbidden for them to do so whilst wearing a Palestinian headscarf, a Kaffiyeh. The soldiers were forced to back her.
Somehow it was fitting to be here on the day of Trump’s victory. Here walls and barriers segregate people according to race and religion. International law was spat upon and racism allowed to flourish.